I’d wager that many of you fine readers have struggled with the problem of being the odd-ball witch or pagan struggling to find acceptance in a family of Evangelical, fundamentalist Christians. That is a thing that happens down here in the bible-belt with alarming frequency, especially for young adults just starting out, and can be really challenging. For 15 years, I lied and hid who I really was from my mother, and most of our family, which was both miserable and pitiful. I regret how I handled things. Here are a few tips to consider, should you choose to come out of your broom closet, too.
I’ve written several articles about my mother, her death and funeral, and my journey to reconcile my upbringing with my newfound witchery. On my article about how she haunted me after she died,I received this comment with a very important question:
Heron – looking back, what would/could you have done differently while your mother was still alive? I find myself exhausted by life in the broom closet, but our mothers are much the same in their religious perspective and I’m not prepared to sacrifice my family yet. ~CB
What would I do differently?
If I had a do-over, I would find a way to show her the respect of an honest adult relationship, and come completely out of my “broom closet” for her to see. I’d brave the storm of condemnation it could cause in the beginning, and openly be the woman of conscience that I was called to be–just like she was. I would do so lovingly, respectfully, but firmly, regardless of her approval. She never gave a damn what people thought of her convictions. That is a pro-tip I learned from her.
I’d like to give her the chance to understand the fulfillment I’ve found through my unorthodox choices. I have no doubt that we would grow through adversity with each other, as she faced the fact that a beloved daughter became a priestess of a different Deity, and I faced the challenge of standing proudly on my sacred ground without flinching under her fire. I’d like to think that as that priestess of Aphrodite, I could set a high standard of unconditional, Divine Love, grace and beauty with my mother, and then allow her the chance to rise to that standard with me, until we found peace.
Easier said than done, I know. I go back to the commenter’s question and my eyes keep falling on the word sacrifice. “Sacrifice my family…”
But how would I “come out” without sacrificing my family? That is the key to this question. The truth is, that when I began the tippy-toe steps out of the broom closet, one consequence was that my eleven year long marriage did eventually end, in no small part due to my religious convictions. So *I did* sacrifice one form of family that I valued very much. Though, I found other forms of family that were far better for us all, I can assure you that it was for the best.
I’ve thought on this question for a while and I must admit that I don’t have any sure-fire answer to what works, but through blundering experience I do have a story to tell, and I’m a story-teller, so I’ll start there: My mother and I had already gone down this road part-way, when I admitted under duress that my ex-husband and I weren’t Christians. Therefore, the odds of us taking our small children to church to learn about “the fear and admonition of the Lord” (no kidding, she used exactly those words) were pretty slim. Just for context, I was 32 at the time. It was also 9 months before her eventual death and she had no idea I’d just self-initiated to Witchcraft and helped form a coven.
Playing the “Science Card”
My ex-husband is a physicist, so I told her a truth, that we were raising our children to understand the scientific explanations about the Universe. Whooo, boy! That went over like a fart in church! She followed me room to room, there was weeping, gnashing of teeth and rending of garments (sorry, I can’t help myself with the biblical references). It devolved to pleading about how being a mother meant she just couldn’t stop trying to save us as long as we were doomed to be parted from her for an eternity of torture in hell’s fires.
And what of her innocent grandchildren? How could we risk their eternal souls like this? It was at this point that she was kinda hysterical. I can attest to the pointlessness of arguing with weeping grandmothers over the existence of hell, or the psychopathy of torturing “innocent children.” Just don’t go there.
Playing the “Unitarian Universalist” Card:
In an attempt to end the haranguing about joining a church for the children’s sake, I confessed that I was newly a member of the local Unitarian Universalist Congregation, where I was taking them for religious education classes on Sunday mornings. My savvy readers will surmise that I was there as a member of the CUUPs Chapter, (Covenant of UU Pagans) but I didn’t have to mention that part.
She reared back, snarled, sneered and shook her head in disapproval. “Aren’t they New Age-y?” She practically spit out that last word. Seriously, for such a beautiful woman, she could do hideous contortions with her face when she disapproved, her lack of acceptance of even this tiny patch of common ground really wounded me. “Not really, Mom. They are mostly progressive Christians, but I am New Age-y, and they welcome me with love and acceptance. You should try it sometime.”
So the fight became a stalemate, and then she went back home to Kentucky. Like so many arguments before, soon arrived more boxes filled with video tapes of televangelist shows, books by Pat Robertson and Joel Osteen, books on creationism refuting evolutionary theory, books warning of “cults” like the “new age” movement, pamphlets and daily devotionals all highlighted and notated in the margins. And the rub: Veggie Tales, a brand of Christian children’s movies and books for my kids, because, you know…patriarchal indoctrination is so much more effective when served by cartoon characters to little children. <snark>
When Christmas rolled around I made excuses for why she couldn’t come back to see us for the holiday, because I had a Yule Sabbat to hold, and who wants that fight over Yule? By March she was gone, so that was the last time we’d see my mother alive.
Please be advised that I am NOT any form of licensed therapist or legal adviser, but I have spent precious years in therapy, and precious money on legal advice. So I picked up a few pointers on how to effectively stand my ground as a sovereign citizen. Here goes:
1. Understand the Risks
While all this proselytizing was highly irritating, I consider myself very lucky because my mom loved me but had no real sway over my survival. All I had to risk was the impassioned war of salvation she would wage, because the likelihood she’d stop talking to me was…well, her not talking just wasn’t possible.
I was in no physical or legal danger. I know she wouldn’t have tried to take my kids, or disown me, or harm me in any way. Yet, those are real problems that happen with sad regularity. So, as I consider what advice I would offer other pagans in that situation, please consider that each of us must show great care, diplomacy and discretion when broaching these sorts of hot-button topics with our loved ones. Be strong, but be safe, my lovelies.
2. Be Willing to Walk Away
I learned through years of post-divorce therapy that the only way to maintain healthy, respectful relationships is to be willing to walk away from persistent abusive treatment. This includes emotional, mental and spiritual violations of your personal rights and “freedom to pursue your happiness.” If you take time to communicate clearly, establishing clear boundaries and expectations, and the abuse continues? Then your simplest recourse is to remove your fine company from the reach of the abusive person. Leave, or ask them to leave. You have no control over other people’s behavior, but you DO have control over your own affiliations. I just love this jewel from The Wiccan Rede: With no fool a season spend, nor be counted as their friend. Think about it.
3. Know your Constitutional Rights
Consider this: Any overt oppression of your Spirit and Free-Will is a violation against nature itself. If you are at risk to be harmed by your family members due to your differing religious beliefs, you are being abused. That is unconscionable, and a violation of your constitutional rights.
The first amendment of the United States Constitution protects our free exercise of the religion of our choice. Should they doubt the validity of this choice, know that Wicca has been federally recognized as a religion since the 80’s in a variety of court decisions agreeing that it does indeed qualify for protection under the first amendment. Then the US Army Chaplain handbook has this lovely description of Wicca, and instructions on how to honor the spiritual needs of Wiccan soldiers, as of their 1990 edition. If a soldier defending this country can have a pentacle on his dog tags, and on their grave marker when they are laid to rest in our National Cemetaries, then Wicca is s worthy enough pursuit for the average citizen, too.
4. Become Sovereign with complete authority and responsibility for yourself
If you have reason to fear for your well being–and that includes access to the resources you need to survive–from ANYONE because you wish to practice a religion different than theirs, the first thing you should work on is getting yourself to a place of safety and independance. Call the authorities if you have to. Craft your life such that these folks no longer have that kind of control over you. Establishing your sovereignty is the first step of good witchcraft, anyway. Work to create the environment in which you will thrive, then decide whether or not to tackle the interpersonal conversations about religion when you have less to lose.
There are agencies and advocacy groups out there to help you should you find yourself in a threatening situation and need help. In support of our freedom of religion in legal matters, know that we are blessed to have The Lady Liberty League in the United States.
From their website: “LLL members include specialists in a variety of focus areas, including public relations, countering harassment, employment issues, child custody issues, military affairs, law enforcement relations, legal affairs, interfaith relations, scholars support, and others.”
My First Rule of Witchcraft is Don’t burn the witch, starting with yourself; the best way to love and respect others is to begin by loving and respecting yourself first. Create high standards for yourself, and those with whom you are in relationship. Be awesome, be gentle, be informative, and loving; hold open the door to meet them on common ground, standing strong, but if they cannot return to you the same respect by showing up in peace, be willing to let them go their own way. What’s that old saying?
“If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they’re yours; if they don’t they never were.”
5. Change your perspective from combatant to healer
One of the jobs of the Witch is be a healer, yes? Well, we need to become a field medics for our evangelical neighbors. We understand that the Abrahamic paradigm is a battlefield where a war is raging between their God and the Anti-God they’ve named “Satan.” Its a good vs evil paradigm, and in their mythology its a real nightmare trying to decide which character is good and which one is evil, because its basically a horror story from beginning to end. The whole system is driven by the fear of being cast out from the supposed love and mercy of their God due their inherent depravity through original sin, the weakness of the flesh that they are supposed to deny, and then tortured for eternity in the fires of hell unless they jump the hoops, fit the mold, and tow the line, just so. Fear of a lack of god’s love binds them like slaves. I have nothing but compassion for anyone still suffering on this battlefield, because they are bleeding out all over America. Bless their hearts. MEDIC!
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Mental Health Professionals now recognizing a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder called Religious Trauma Syndrome. Of course some of these wounded folks are acting badly towards us! If they love you, of course they are concerned for your eternal soul, but it does no more good to harbor anger towards them than it does good to blame a veteran with PTSD. Hold the space with that thought for a moment. Then, send the power of truly unconditional Divine Love into those wounds, offer them healing, compassion and support, just as much as you would a soldier returning from war.
Mind you, this is just my opinion, coming from my own paradigm’s perspective, but I see this particular variety of evangelical Christian as having been wounded so deeply, so intimately, for so long, with such a subversive form of brain-washing, and that those wounds fester under this repressive, unnatural way to live. This pressure cooker is the recipe for disaster. THIS is the root of “evil.” They don’t know any other way. But you do…and isn’t that a blessing you should share?
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who’ve trespassed against us.” ~Lord’s prayer, Matthew 6: 9
My paganism is a honeymoon paradigm. It is a love story, of Goddess loving God, and through their union, the Universe is born. We know that all of us, including our most meddlesome of proselytizing family members, are sacred beings worthy of dignity and respect. We know that all of humanity are inherently Divine and blessed in their natures, just like Jesus was trying to tell them so very long ago…
6. Be the Golden Rule in Action
Within Wicca, I’d say there is one steadfast taboo: Thou Shalt Not Proselytize. We can’t even begin to change them, or their long-held religious beliefs. To try and convert them, or even suggest that their religion is wrong for them, is a form of cultural violence. In my opinion, people who knock on my door and suggest to me that my relationship with Divinity is invalid or incorrect are being assholes, and I have no tolerance for assholery. (See my second rule of Witchcraft.) But we can show them what the Golden Rule is supposed to look like by offering them the peaceful coexistence that we all deserve. Be a shining example for them to see; make yourself available to them for counsel, should they seek it. But, honor their free-will to practice their religion as they see fit…at a healthy distance to your own, if necessary. Namaste Away.
7. Grow into Adult Relationships
When little children know they are doing something their parents have forbidden, they sneak around and try to hide it. Of course, if they are anything like my little children, they are eventually caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar, and it is comically clear that they were knowingly, willfully breaking the house rules. Pitiful lies, cover ups, and guilty posturing will not help them. Blubbering apology and appeals for merciful release from the consequences of their actions are pointless. They agreed to the rules, they broke the rules, now there are consequences. None of this behavior is honorable. This is a parent vs. dependent child model similar to the Abrahamic paradigm of judgmental Father God vs. a naughty child in need of guidance, model.
But neopaganism, and Witchcraft in specific, is supposed to be a loving parent in co-creative relationship with independent adult child paradigm. In the case of an adult choosing their own Spiritual path, separate from their parent’s paths, there now becomes a whole new set of rules. With sovereignty and free-will, these human parents do not get the final say in this adult’s choices. Human parents can offer advice, but they get no authority over their adult child’s conscience, no right to judge, and they have no power to enforce any consequences, nor need to, because that adult is doing nothing wrong. That is between them and their gods.
We pagans have to stop participating in that old system with our human parents, sneaking around, lying and acting like naughty, guilty children. If our spiritual work is honorable, then we must act accordingly without shame, or apology, or their fears that we are doing something dishonorable might as well be true.
At some point, all of us have to both treat our human parents like respected equals, and insist that they do the same for usin return. Adults engage each other in meaningful conversation about the important things in life. They are free to disagree and argue with each other, too.
8. Choose your Words Carefully; Do your Research
As you broach the subject of your religious beliefs, discuss ideas at first, like “honoring the earth as sacred” and “celebrating the cycles of nature,” while omitting trigger words like “pagan” or “witch.” Before those words make their way into the conversation, I suggest keeping a copy of this book on hand When Someone You Love Is Wiccan: A Guide to Witchcraft and Paganism for Concerned Friends, Nervous Parents, and Curious Co-Workers by Carl McColman or this one Paganism: An Introduction to Earth- Centered Religions
by River and Joyce Higginbotham.
Take the time to read it carefully, highlighting and making notations about what points you agree and disagree with in the margins. When the moment is right, give it to your loved one with a sincere request that they read it if they’d like to understand your point of view better, then let it go. Remember, that you are also obliged to give them the same courtesy should they offer you something similar in return. This is the tricky point with my mother that I never quite grasped. Then comes the hardest part of all: release all expectation on the outcome.
9. Get right with Jesus
Finally, I would offer this piece of advice from the other side of the trenches. Until you come to terms with the religion of your parents and childhood, you can’t fully evolve into your next big adventure. Those shadows will always be nipping at your heels. I’m sure you have wounds, attend to their healing. Release all that does not serve your highest good, including any resentment towards the system or people that created them. You know what they say?
“Hatred is like poisoning yourself and waiting for your enemy to die?”
Don’t be that guy; Don’t poison the Witch, either.
Get to know the Jesus mythology from an academic bible, like the Oxford Annotated Bible. Learn the history of how the Christian church began, and changed over time. Jesus is fabled to have been a healer, a seer, a walker between the worlds, clergy, wise one and a co-creator of reality on speaking terms with a Deity. He was a necromancer, raising Lazarus from the dead. He spent long periods of time alone in nature, where he heard the voice of god. He was a feisty revolutionary who respected women, challenged the status quo, and cracked a few heads when necessary. He was awakened to his inherent divinity and his message was that we were all “children of god” who should love our neighbors as we love ourselves. All the same things can be said for the Witches I know. Once you can forgive this mythological character, and understand the stories in an objective way, common ground is not too hard to find, if you try.
10. “Be the Change you Wish to See in the World” ~Ghandi
It won’t be easy, but through my experience I’ve found it to be worth the effort. I wish you all the best, my lovelies. Be wise, show discernment and act with grace. Let your heart’s be your guides, and you’ll know what to do.